Barcelona: Contemporary Catalan Cuisine at Alkimia

This is like a consolation prize for not getting a table at El Bulli.  This is Plan B for fine cuisine while we are in Barcelona.

We found Alkimia from researching on Chowhound.  We wanted to really go to Cinc Sentits as our first choice but they were closed.  Both were excellent new wave restaurants.


Suanne finally got her glasses fixed.  We were at around Sagrada Familia because there is where Alkimia is located.  We found an optometrist on the way.

You know, Suanne always pushed me to do all the Spanish talking for her but this time (he he he) I told her I am not going to do that for her.  It’s her glasses and if she wants it fixed, she needs to do it herself.  Gosh, she hates me.  But she did well.  The optometrist does not speak English but he knows the problem right off.  He refused payment too even though we offered to pay.  I wished we had something to give him for his kindness.  The only thing we had on ourselves is an Angus Third Pounder coupon, good only in the US.  So Suanne said the FIRST official Spanish word communicating with a Spaniard … Gracias!  Oh, I love to see her all stressed out.  She hates me alright.


Our reservation was for noon but we were there about 30 minutes early.  They were just setting up but were kind enough to let us in and have a table.  We were the only customer there at that time which is technically still breakfast time in Spain!

The interior is awashed in white.  Very minimalistic.  Very white.  I corrected the white balance of the picture above but the interior had a very pleasant lighting.

You know what we love best about Alkimia?  That it is strictly PROHIBIDOR FUMAR!!  No smoking.  Oh yeah!


I like the lighting a lot.  It was as if they are strategically placed that the focus is on the food and nothing else.

As expected, service was excellent.  Very attentive, respectful and anticipative, if there is such a word.  While Alkimia is a fine dining restaurant, they did not mind that we were in casuals and jeans.


I like their pepper and salt shakers.  It took a while for me to figure out which is salt and which is pepper.


The knife … see how it does not lie on the sides?  Alright, I am a sucker for details like this.


Their menu is huge, almost 2 feet long.  It’s not that it is extensive — just outrageously big.  The menu is actually simple.  Alkimia serves contemporary Catalana cuisine.

Only three to choose from:

  • The Menu Alkimia, tasting menu at €68 / CAD $105 — 12 courses
  • The Traditional Menu at €54 — appetizers, 5 mains, 2 desserts
  • The Seasonal Menu at €32 — appetizers, 2 mains, 1 dessert

We went with the Menu Alkimia.  As in most tasting menu, everyone at the table has to order the same menu.  We can’t have 1 order of Menu Alkimia and another for the Traditional Menu.  This is because of timing issues, I believe.


Our waitress can clearly see that we were documenting the meal.  I mean the camera is hard to not notice and Suanne has a note book (not notebook!) on her side.  We were surprised that the waitress went and print out a color menu for our reference.


We had a bottle sparkling water.  €4.50.


The breadstick was the first thing they brought to our table.  It sure was fun … must be at least two feet long that we had to stretch to reach the top.


It was crispy and tasted like it was freshly made.


Next was the cured meat which came with …


… an oily drink with some very crusty bread crumbs in it.  We were told to pop the cured meat and the “drink” all at once.  It has a very unique combination of taste and texture.


We were still at the first appetizer course.  They call this Gorgonzola cheese, tomato, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Gorgonzola cheese is Italian style blue cheese but for this dish it is made into thick foam.

OK, this is the closest we had come so far in trying Ferran Adria’s creation.  It is the famed El Bulli master chef who first invented this style.  It is supposed to place more importance to flavour than to the other aspects of the food.

It was a very interesting start to the meal.  First course down … 11 more to come.   (more…)

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Barcelona: Els Encants Vells Flea Market

We really did not know what to do on our sixth day in Barcelona.  The highlight of the day is lunch at one of the new fine dining restaurant that showcases contemporary Catalan cooking.  The day of devoid of a theme, if you may.  It will be a slow, unrushed day.

Suanne had a little accident the day before.  It had never happened before and it just had to happen when we are on vacation.  You see, she lost the tiny screw on her glasses.  Without her glasses, she is technically blind.

We tried fixing it in the hotel and the only thing that we had that is small enough to hold it together temporarily is … dental floss!!  Since Suanne can’t see, I had to thread the dental floss … and you know that this sort of things are not meant for a guy to do right.  I mean, men are not wired for this type of fine motor stuff.  Frustrating work I must say but got it on finally.  It was quite a neat job too if I must say so myself.


The hotel concierge told us that we could try El Cortes Ingles to fix the glasses permanently.  There is one about 3 blocks away from the hotel at the Placa de Francesc Macia on Dia-gonal.  It was too early and the shops were not opened yet.  So we had breakfast at one of the many coffee shops peppered around the round about.

We went into this place called Kilimanjaro which is modern and spanking clean — but still as smokey.  As usual we had Cafe Con Leche.


The service was “excelente”.  I think the guy took care of us better because we are tourists.  It was supposed to be self-service but he came around where we are to double clean our table and asked that if we wanted anything to just ask.  We felt good — nice young man.

We had chocolate pastry …


… and croissant sandwich with ham and cheese which was a little toasted.  The croissant sandwich was delightful.  The crusty sandwich with cured meat was equally great.  Breakfast was €9.55.

I remembered it was a very relaxed breakfast like we did not have anything to do in the whole morning.  We took our time and looked out the window … people watching.  Dia-gonal is a really busy street.  There were cars, people, buses, bicycles just bustling here and there.


After breakfast we took the subway to the flea market.  It was just a few stops away and so we thought we might as well do this.  The flea market is located at this huge flyover which from the looks of it is the only flyover in the city.  It is here there is the Torre Agbar which looks a lot like the Gherkin in London.

The Torre Agbar is perhaps the tallest building in Barcelona.  You can’t see clearly from the picture above but it is lighted with thousands of LED lights which gives it a hue of colors.  The window panes are automatically controlled by temperature sensors.   (more…)

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Barcelona: Virgin of Montserrat

Day #5. This was supposed to be a slow day and about time too. We had walked a lot the past few days.

We went and travel afield out of Barcelona. We were going to Monserrat to see the Virgin of Monserrat.


We had to take the regional train, R5, to Monserrat from the Plaza de Espana.

Montserrat-40-400x600 Montserrat-3-600x400Montserrat-4-600x400

Breakfast was in one of the restaurants on the feeder roads to the Plaza de Espana. The name of the restaurant is Bar Andrurina, not that the name meant much to us. It was just a normal restaurant. We sat outside over the issue of smoke. Moreover, it is better sitting outside — people watching.

Drinks was cafe con leche (again) and fresh orange juice. I had the egg with tomato sandwich while Suanne ordered the pork coin sandwich. There was not much flavour to the pork, Suanne said, and added that it tasted more like a tomato sandwich. Breakfast was €12.30.


There was a counter down at the subway station that helps tourists on planning the day at Monserrat. Apparently we could make all the arrangements at the train station itself. It was not only the train tickets but also the gondola ride, entrances and even meals.

We went with the works mainly because we did not know what to expect. The package is €37 per person which works out to be around $57 Canadian. This includes the train from Barcelona to Montserrat, cable car, rack railway, audio visuals, museum and a meal.


The train took about an hour to get to Monserrat. We enjoyed the extended ride and slept part of the way there. We were still recovering from jet lag too, you see.


Even though we had never been here before, we knew the moment we were near Monserrat. The scenery changed and what we saw was the unmistakable jagged cliffs of Montserrat. Right up at the top, nestled between the ridges, was the famed monastery of Catalonia.


Most tourists will get to the top of Montserrat via the bright yellow cable cars. At peak time, the lines to go up is very long. There appears to be only two cars alternating between the two stations. We were early and so we just needed to wait for the next car.

We were squished into the small car like sardines. If you were not one of the few lucky ones to get to stand by a window, it is a very uncomfortable ride. We ended up in the middle where we could not see anything at all.


We thought this will be like some medieval castle. It was like a little town with modern buildings. Monserrat was first mentioned in history books as early as the 9th century. According to stories, Montserrat is suspected to be the location of the Holy Grail — interesting.

We saw lots of cars. It was only then we realized that there is a way up here by road. It sure did not look like there is a road from where we took the cable car.

We went first to the audio visual room. We were the only one there! But it was comfy with air conditioning and all. It was too comfy that we fell asleep. Woke up when the lights came on. We stayed to watch the video the next round.


The day was hot and humid. One would have thought that it would be cooler at the top of the mountain. It was not.

So we decided to duck into the museum next knowing that it will be air conditioned. There were strictly no pictures here … not even at the foyer! The museum surprisingly had a good collection of paintings including Picasso and Dali. There were also early church items on display too.


The Inner Courtyard is the oldest surviving part of Montserrat.


We then did what many people come to Montserrat to see — the Virgin of Montserrat. We took a look at the line and thought … OK, let’s just wait in line. Everyone around us was speaking Spanish (or Catalan, whatever) that it did not occur to us to ask the most fundamental of questions. How long is the line?

From where we stood, it seems like it’s less than 50 meters to the entrance. We were so wrong!


The line went on and on and on. We did not realize the time because the line moved from one area to another and there was something to see along the way. By the time we realize how long it will take to get to the Virgin, we had already waited for one hour. We were told … “Oh, you are close. Only one hour more”.

One more hour?!?

So we queued for TWO hours in all. We really had no choice. There is nothing much more to see in Montserrat and it was really hot outside. Moreover, we had already waited for one hour. So, what is one more hour right?

If we knew earlier we would not have queued to see the Virgin. At the end of the line, this is what we saw …

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6th Spanish Meal and Our Last Ditch Attempt at El Bulli

So, we got back to the hotel and thought we just take a nap and then go out for a late dinner, like Spaniards do.  We were so tired that it was 11PM when I woke up again.  I roused Suanne up.  She said she was not going and there is no way she is going to wake up, get dressed and go out again.

She had this pitiful look that I thought I better not subject her to more walking.  It had been a long day already.  Moreover, we were not hungry at all.


I have to report that we failed in our attempt to eat like a Spaniard.  Oh well.

Will we attempt to eat like that again?  After all, it was just day #4 out of our 18 days in Spain.  The answer is NO!

Anyway, I had made a phone call and sent emails to El Bulli trying to get  a table.  I know the odds are against me but I thought if I just be presistent enough, they would remember the name “Ben” and maybe … just maybe … they might squeeze in a table for us.  I am sure they can do that.

For those of you who had not been following this blog, well, El Bulli is the #1 restaurant in the world.  Having a meal at El Bulli will certainly be the mother of meals that Suanne and I would ever had.  Really, we don’t care for the cost … we just want to taste Ferran Adria’s creation.

So, after all the cajouling, I got the response from El Bulli.  All that effort was not lost!!  I got this email response finally from El Bulli … (more…)

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5th Spanish Meal: Tapas at a Neighborhood Bar

  • Meal #1: Simple Breakfast — checked
  • Meal #2: Savory Breakfast — checked
  • Meal #3: Lunch — checked
  • Meal #4: Merienda — checked

Two more meals to go in our attempt to eat like a Spaniard.  Meal #5 is supposed to be tapas before we wrap up the day with a dinner.

We were so tired that we decided to just head back to the hotel, have tapas nearby, take a nap and then go out again for dinner.


We did not care about where to eat.  So we went to a neighborhood bar between our hotel and the subway station.  We chose this one because there are no one outside the patio which means that we don’t have to deal with smoke.

Bad choice though.  It was because before we know it, the place was owned by Chinese!  There goes the whole idea about having tapas in a traditional Spanish restaurant.  Suanne and I debated about going to another place.  She wanted to go to look for another place.  I told her I am not going to walk anymore and this is fine.  Well, it was I who was doing the carrying of the backpack the whole time.  The camera and lens is heavy and not to mention that we had TWO bottles of drinking water.  Suanne is so fussy that she does not want to drink out of the same bottle as mine — germs she says.


The tapas here are made to order.  They don’t have it all prepared and on display at the bar.  So we relied on the pictures outside the restaurant to place our order and they then go to the kitchen to make it.  We thought that it would be better that way.

First item was the Potato which came with mayo and ketchup by the side.  The ketchup was spicy.  It did not look like that though but it was pleasantly spicy to us.  The potato came real hot as you can imagine having just been deep fried.


Oh we thought that Enchovies with Olives sounds great.  It was awful.  We had never tasted anything like this at all.  Firstly, it was very salty.  It was so salty that we both shudder biting into it.  It was impossible to eat this and left this untouched.  Oh man … urgh!   (more…)

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4th Spanish Meal: Churros and Hot Chocolate at El Corte Ingles

From Montjuic we went across town to Camp Nou, the home of FC Barcelona.  I don’t have the pictures to show of the visit because we did not take any.  Am kicking myself for this now!  The stadium was a long walk from the main road.  I only knew it was tiring and hot and was not in the mood for any more sightseeing looking at the long lines of people waiting to get into a guided tour of the famed soccer (football!) grounds of one of the greatest football clubs in the world.


Moreover, the costs of the tour put us off too.  It was something like €30 … per person.  So we just browsed around the huge club store.  The club jerseys were €100 each.  They costs as much, if not more than a Canucks jersey and soccer jerseys are simpler by far.  No wonder FC Barcelona is also known as one of the richest soccer clubs in the world.

We decided it was time to call it a day.  That day was the day we walked the most – Montjuic was killing our feet.  We decided to go look for one item we have high on our “To Eat” list … Churros and Hot Chocolate.

It just happened that there is a El Corte Ingles (pronounced as el-courting-gle) at the subway station on our way back.  El Corte Ingles is a huge departmental store and the ones we had been to towers 9 stories high.  We don’t have the likes of the El Corte Ingles in Vancouver.  It is unbelievable what they have here … everything!  When Suanne lost the screws to her glasses, guess where the hotel pointed us to … El Corte Ingles.


Usually on the top floor of El Corte Ingles, there is a cafe and a fine cuisine restaurant.  We had came to enjoy coming to the cafes of El Corte Ingles.  It is bright, shiny clean and most importantly of all, smoke free!  Moreover, the staff wears tux and vests with impeccable service … and the chances of them able to speak English are higher.  We also appreciated the fact that they have English versions of their picture menus.  Prices are cheap too.


It was time for the Spanish La Merienda.  Quite a lot of tables were having the churros, and churros alone.  They came topped with sugar.  This plate is €1.30 which is about $2 Canadian.

Churros are made deep fried and from potato dough.


Some people just have the Churros by itself.  For us, there is only one way to eat this.  With Hot Chocolate — the traditional Spanish way.  The Hot Chocolate here is really thick unlike the way we Canadians have it watered down.  It is so thick that technically, you don’t drink it.

Our first encounter with Spanish Hot Chocolate was in Dulcinea on Denman.  Some of you may have remembered that for everyone who said “chowtimes loves xocolatl” got a free cup of hot chocolate at Dulcinea.  Their hot chocolate was marvelous but at that time they did not have churros.  Am not sure if they have churros now.  They told me that they have the machines but is waiting on city hall to approve it.

The cup of Hot Chocolate here is much larger than the cup that we had in Dulcinea.  So it was great.


Oh man … this is simply one of the best thing we had so far on our trip.  God, we could have this everyday.  The ridges of the churros are made that way to hold more of the hot chocolate.

There are proper techniques, albeit a chowtimes made-up techniques, in eating this.  Here are some of the tips on eating churros.


Always … always dunk your churros by hand into the hot chocolate.  When the hot chocolate runs low, you are allowed to break the churros into smaller pieces and throw it into the cup.


You then scoop up the churros with the spoon.  They always provide you the spoon for this purpose and another purpose which I will explain later on.

See the above?  That is the wrong way to scoop up the Churros.  No, no, no … don’t do it this way.  The proper way is to … (more…)

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Barcelona: Montjuic, Venue of the 1992 Summer Olympics

You know, I am proud to be living in a Olympic city.  In just a six short months, Vancouver will become one of the few cities in the world who would have hosted an Olympics.  Fine, it is Winter Olympics that Vancouver is hosting and not the level of stature for the Summer version … still.


The one place I wanted to visit at Montjuic is the main Stadium which hosted the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

This stadium was actually first built to host the “alternative” Olympics as a protest to the 1936 Berlin Olympics because of the rise of Nazism.  That alternative Olympics did not materialize for some reason.


We were  expecting to see a large stadium.  It looked like it is even smaller than Vancouver’s BC Place.


We also saw the cauldron that held the Olympic flame for the duration of the events.


I still remember how they lit the cauldron … and how nervous I was that the archer would miss!  Check out the youtube video above.


We next went to the Olympic Museum just next to the stadium.   (more…)

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3rd Spanish Meal: Having The Best Sandwich in the World on Montjuic

Besides trying to eat six meals a day like a Spaniard, we wanted to spend the day on Montjuic.  Montjuic is roughly translated as Mount Jews and is the highest point of all hills that surrounds Barcelona.  Montjuic is also the site where the stadiums of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics are located.

We guessed that there would not be much in terms of good food in a place like that.  So it was just perfect that we get something for the trip to Montjuic.


So we went to the Viena Cafe to buy the “Best Sandwich in the World”.  No kidding … New York Times called the sandwich at Cafe Viena in Barcelona as having the best sandwich in the world.

It is in this New York Times article that Mark Bittman said

But this gets a little technical; let’s just say it’s the best sandwich I’ve ever had.

Alright, it was controversial when Mark Bittman wrote that but for what it’s worth, things written by the NYT is very much taken as a gospel truth.

OK, NYT also said that the Zen Chinese Cuisine in Richmond is also the “best Chinese restaurant outside of China”.  We went to that restaurant (blog here) before it closed a few months later!  So, there you go!


We went to the Viena Cafe which is located on La Rambla, just a short walk away from the La Boqueria.  Sure enough, the entrance has that Mark Bittman quote of the sandwich.

We expected that this is a large sandwich shop, but it wasn’t.  It was more like a bar than a sandwich cafe with no sandwiches on sight.  We did not remember the name of the sandwich and thought we just go in and ask for “the best sandwich in the world” to go.

The folks did not quite understand English and embarrassingly, I had to stand next to the counter and repeated a few time quite loudly that I wanted the “best sandwich in the world”.  I drew quite a few amused looks from the people around me.  Suanne withdrew behind me trying to hide under my shadows.

They made the sandwich at the kitchen.  It was about €7 each.  We did not want to open up the bag to peek at it as if by doing so, the moist sandwich will dry up and make it no longer the best sandwich in the world.  We did not want to put it also in the backpack lest we end up squishing it flat.  The distinctive yellow Cafe Viena paper bag to be hand carried with pride and on show to everyone.  Oh yeah … it was that precious.


With the Best Sandwich in the World in hand, we made our way to Montjuic.  The journey itself is quite interesting.

We first took a driverless shuttle train which is part of the Barcelona Metro system.


We then took the gondola to get to the castle on top of Montjuic.  The gondola ride is extra but we did not have to pay because we had the Barcelona Card.

The ride gives us a commanding view of the city of Barcelona.  The city is flat with lots of low rise buildings of uniform height.


Out of the low rise buildings you could clearly see the landmarks.  The above is the Sagrada Familia with the 8 of 18 towers completed.  When completed, the middle tower will tower twice the height you see above and will be just 1 meter shy of the height of Montjuic.


The fortified castle was built during the 17th century and had been undergone a few expansions to what it is today.  It used to be a prison and the site of a number of high profile executions.

There were nothing much to see here other than the commanding view of the city.

We found a nice grassy area to have the best sandwich in the world.  We were saying to ourselves this is perfect … the view was beautiful and the weather was cool enough to sit outside the shade.  Opening up the bag, we found this …   (more…)

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2nd Spanish Meal: Breakfast at Mercat La Boqueria

We went back to La Boqueria because we wanted to check out the market in the morning.  The last time we were there, it was in the late afternoon and half the market was already closed.


We are going to look for food, specifically for our 2nd breakfast.  It was supposed to be a “savory breakfast” and consisting of items like the potato omelette or sandwiches.


We were right.  There were a lot of food outlets here.  All of them are small with bar style seating.

Needless to say it was crowded.  It just happened that a couple was just about to leave when we walked past the above stall.  Good timing.


This place does not look like they serve “savory breakfast”.  Anyway, since people are having this in early morning, I guess we’ll have the same too.  The food on display at the counter is so enticing.  Look at the prawns …


… and the octopus.


Despite the crowd of people, they sure worked very slowly.  Sitting at the bar looking at them preparing just the orange juice, it took them like 5 minutes to get that prepared.

One thing we noticed about the orange juices we had in Spain, they are all freshly squeezed orange juice.

We ordered a little something as snack.  We ordered the … (more…)

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1st Spanish Meal: Desayunos

We wanted to spend most of our day visiting the area around Montjuic.  Montjuic is the site of the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics.

It is also the day we are going to eat-eat-eat-eat-eat-and-eat.  That is going to be a lot of eating.  Contrary to our readers’ impression, we are not big eaters.  Really.  Honest.


We took a leisurely stroll to around the neighborhood where our hotel was.  Our hotel was not in a touristy area and so the restaurants here are very much patronized by the locals.

The one we went to was just around the block.  It was like almost all local restaurants, people are smoking inside.  We only decided to eat here because there were no one smoking outside at the patio.

The folks here does not speak English at all.  But over the last few days, we learned a bit of Spanish … he he he.

Clearing my throat, I confidently say “Hola!”.  The owner replied “Hola!” and proceed to speak Spanish.  Ahh … but I know what he was saying to me.  He said we could either take the tables inside or outside.  I know because he was pointing to the tables inside and the outside.  I smiled and said “Gracias!”.

So far so good.   (more…)

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